Nightcrawler was a late addition to the line-up at the Mill Valley Film Festival. I was not able to see it there but it stayed on my radar. It didn't seem to get much press and Box Office Mojo confirms that it did modestly well in ticket sales.
I'll digress for a moment. Of the top 100 grossing films in 2014, I saw ten:
#1 Guardians of the Galaxy
#2 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
#17 Gone Girl
#52 The Grand Budapest Hotel
My movie going tastes are obviously not in sync with mainstream audiences. Of the top 100 grossing films in 2014, it's not until #15 (Interstellar) that I see a film that I'm even remotely interested in and it is not until #73 (St. Vincent) until I see a film that I would regret missing.
According to Box Office Mojo, the top 10 films of 2014 are:
#1 Guardians of the Galaxy - I saw this film based on a co-worker's recommendation and was slightly disappointed; great soundtrack.
#2 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 - I saw this film to support the Balboa Theater and was greatly disappointed.
#3 Captain America: The Winter Soldier - I remember this film coming out but had no desire to see it.
#4 The LEGO Movie - I do not remember this film coming out.
#5 Transformers: Age of Extinction - I get all the Transformers films confused. I haven't seen any of the films in this series.
#6 Maleficent - Snow White tale with Angelina Jolie sporting some massive horns
#7 X-Men: Days of Future Past - I get all the X-Men films confused. I stopped watching after the second film in the series.
#8 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - I get all the PotA films confused (except the original). I stopped watching after the one with James Franco & Freida Pinto.
#9 Big Hero 6 - I have no idea what this film is about and I don't even remember seeing commercials for it.
#10 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - who plays Spider-Man now? Emma Stone is the love interest. I've never seen one of these films in a movie theater. I remember Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and Alfred Molina as Doc Oct but that was with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker.
What I find amazing about the top 10 list is that is that four of the films are based on characters developed by Marvel Comics in the 1960s or as they say part of the MCU. Six of the films are part of a franchise; maybe seven if Guardians of the Galaxy is the first in a series.
On the last Sunday in December 2014, I went to the New Parkway to see Nightcrawler. I briefly considered sticking around for The Interview but it was 45 minute until showtime so I decided to go home.
Nightcrawler starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo & Riz Ahmed; directed by Dan Gilroy; (2014) - Official Website
Like most people in the Bay Area, I am aware that there have been a lot of protests in Oakland lately. Many of the protests have devolved into mini-riots and vandalism. I noticed a lot of boarded up windows on Broadway as I walked from 19th St. BART to 24th St. where the New Parkway is located. Twice in December, I've been on BART trains when service was halted or delayed due to protesters storming BART stations. That was definitely on my mind as I went to Oakland. As I walked back to BART around 7 PM, I noticed a lot of the restaurants in the area were open which is good sign.
When going to that part of Oakland, I try to get a sandwich at Ike's or a bite at Sweet Bar. I've been meaning to stop at Umami Burger and Luka's Tap Room. I recall getting an email from the New Parkway announcing that they had revamped their menu so I decided to have an early dinner at the theater. I ordered the pasta of the day which was orecchiette with chicken & mushrooms. It was very good. The New Parkway has also revamped their food delivery system. Instead of a punchcard type reader on each table, you now receive a more traditional pager type device which you lay on the table. It flashes green when the food is ready so that the servers can see you.
I noticed they have a new facade and signage at the New Parkway since my last visit this summer. Also, there was a large parking lot across the street from the New Parkway which is now well on its way to becoming multi-family housing.
Nightcrawler is the story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). As the film starts, he is stealing some copper wiring from a construction site. It's clear that Bloom's entire subsistence is based on illegal activities. What he lacks in ethics & formal education, Bloom makes up for with intelligence, ambition, hard work & emotional detachment. He finds that these qualities serve him well as a freelance news photographer or stringer. Bloom is the type of man who has no qualms about filming a person dying from an car accident. Not only can he film that person dying but he is impervious to pleas of assistance from the injured...like those paparazzi who filmed Princess Diana as died in Paris.
Bloom moves from filming car accidents to staging the scenes to tampering with crime scenes to finally, manipulating the police into dangerous confrontations while he waits with camera in hand. As distasteful as his actions are, the truly disturbing part of Bloom is his behavior when not filming crime scenes. He essentially exploits a homeless man (Riz Ahmed) to be his "protégé."
The most fascinating parts of the film is his relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the morning news director of a local television station whom Bloom sells to exclusively. At the beginning, Bloom is neophyte and lacks bargaining power. As Bloom learns the ropes and eliminates his competition, he comes to realize that his video clips are improving the station's ratings. In a super creepy scene, Bloom extorts Romina into a sexual relationship. As the scene progresses, we see the power shift from Romina to Bloom as Romina & the audience realize they have underestimated Bloom's intelligence and his lack of scruples.
There are two lines of dialogue that stand out from the film. At one point, Rick (Ahmed) has had enough of Bloom's abuse and legally dubious behavior. He tells Bloom that Bloom doesn't understand people and doesn't know how to talk to people. Bloom allows the comment to pass but a few minutes returns to the topic by saying "What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically."
Towards the end of the film, Bloom removes all doubt as to who is the dominant one in his relationship with Romina. Out of the blue for Romina and the audience, Bloom unleashes this withering takedown in a monotone voice. "Now I like you, Nina. And I look forward to our time together. But you have to understand, fifteen thousand isn't all that I want. From here on, starting now, I want my work to be credited by the anchors and on a burn. The name of my company is Video Production News, a professional news-gathering service. That's how it should be read and that's how it should be said. I also want to go to the next rung and meet your team, and the station manager, and the director, and the anchors, and start developing my own personal relationships. I'd like to start meeting them this morning. You'll take me around, you'll introduce me as the owner and president of Video Production News, and remind them of some of my many other stories. I'm not done. I also want to stop our discussion over prices. This will save time. So when I say that a particular number is my lowest price, that's my lowest price and you can be assured that I arrived at whatever that number is very carefully. Now, when I say that I want these things, I mean that I want them and I don't want to have to ask again. And the last thing that I want, Nina, is for you to do the things that I ask you to do when we're alone together in your apartment, not like the last time." Only at the end when he makes reference to the Nina's sexual resistance do we here the slightest bit of irritation in Bloom's voice.
Gyllenhaal is absolutely incredible in the role of Lou Bloom. It's as if Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver read some self-improvement books and tried to become an entrepreneur. Indeed, Bloom operates strictly at night like Bickle which makes the mood more eerie. Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for the role so he has a gaunt look which makes him look more menacing. Gyllenhaal's greatest accomplishment is that he can deliver the line with barely an inflection but convey a very menacing tone. He uses his hollowed face and piercing eyes to great effect.
Rene Russo shows quite a bit of range as a hardened news veteran barely concealing her desperation. She thinks she has gotten a break by meeting Bloom but in hindsight, it seems Bloom had targeted her - the news director on the vampire shift at the end of her contract with the lowest rated TV station in LA. Bloom is like a drug dealer. He pushes his videos on her until she is hooked and then he shows no mercy. Money is not enough; he has to drain her of every last drop of her dignity.
Finally, the scenes where Gyllenhaal & Riz Ahmed are in the car; waiting for a story to break or on their way to a story have a understated metaphysical quality to them. The simplistic Rick is concerned with existential matters while Bloom exhibits solipsism to the extreme with his egocentrism and lack of empathy. The contrast between the two bring their flaws more into focus.
Nightcrawler is a tremendous film. It's one of the best films I saw in 2014.
17 hours ago